Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Belize trip: day 4

On Day 4 of my Belize trip we visited the Smithsonian Institute on Carrie Bow Caye. Just as we were gearing up to leave Tobacco Caye, we saw water spouts! I don't think my camera would have been up to the task of photographing them but basically they are tornadoes made of water. They did not actually touch the ocean, they were floating above the ocean some distance away but headed in our direction. By the time we were on the water though they had disappeared.

Carrie Bow is owned by the Bowman family and named for a Bowman, they let the Smithsonian use it as a base for doing research on coral reefs. One of the Bowman sons switched the family business from bananas to citrus fruit, making a ton of money in the process, and used part of the money to buy this little island, just big enough for a house and a couple of out buildings.

They cut down all the mangroves, to get rid of the mosquitoes that live in them. Now, I can well understand the motivation, I would do the same. Being somewhat of a mosquito attractor, I am all for reducing mosquito habitat wherever I happen to be. However, mosquito habitat is not all that mangroves provide.

If you cut down a mangrove, it grows back. If you cut it down again, it might grow back. If you continue to cut it down every time it shows its head, eventually you will kill it off permanently. The roots will die. The muck that a mangrove produces around its roots will wash away. The nutrients in that muck will disappear into the ocean and no more mangroves or any other plants will grow in the bare sand left behind. And then, the very next time a storm or hurricane hits that island, the sand too is washed away.

Thanks to a misguided development policy, Belize has been losing its offshore coral cayes at an alarming rate. And if all those cayes did was provide a few folks some fancy homes or resorts that might be no big deal, but as usual, nothing is single-purpose, the cayes protect the mainland from the full force of rainy season hurricanes.

Henry Bowman cut down all the mangroves on Carrie Bow Caye, or rather, he had them cut down. Briefly, the Bowmans enjoyed a mosquito-free vacation island. Then the storms came and the sand left. So, Henry Bowman built (or had built) a great concrete wall along the shore to keep the sand in.

From the second storey deck of the Smithsonian research station, the station manager pointed out the concrete wall to us, under water some thirty feet out from the shoreline. He pointed further out to an invisible line that used to be the island shoreline when once there were mangroves there.

He said they were trying various ideas to keep the sand in, but it was as yet a battle they were not winning. They were trying to replant the mangroves, but so far with little success. Without the protection of the strong root system of an established mangrove swamp, the new little mangroves stand little chance against the hurricane season.

The Belizean government has seen the light on this matter and cutting down mangroves is no longer an easy process. Much paperwork, much bureaucracy. In fact, as we learned during our short visit to the Smithsonian, the Belizean government is relatively enlightened when it comes to environmental sustainability. They see their future in eco-tourism, they see the value in preserving their natural and cultural heritage.

We asked questions about the coral reef and climate change. The station manager gave us interesting responses. They see it as a very complex system with complex responses to environmental change. Yes, warming oceans are detrimental to corals. But so is pollution, so are shrimp farms, so is agricultural run-off. The most damage they see on the reef is due to hurricanes, which are probably more frequent and stronger than they once were. But storm-damaged reefs recover, grow back.

Later in the day we went snorkelling off Carrie Bow and saw first hand the great elkhorn corals destroyed by storms and now growing back. It is eerie to drift through a dead elkhorn forest, the great coral "trees" lying broken in tangled masses on the bottom. But then you see the buds of new growth on the broken trunks and you know it is coming back to life.

Again, from my notebook list, here are some of the fish we saw:

donkey dung sea cucumber
queen triggerfish
doctorfish
white grunt
bicolor damselfish ----->
tiger grouper
yellowtail damselfish
redband parrotfish
yellowhead wrasse
bank butterflyfish

We also saw featherduster and social featherduster tube worms, and "christmas tree" tube worms. Tube worms are fun, if you wave the water near them they pull into their tubes very rapidly: now you see them now you don't.

This picture is looking down on a coral fan, as I said before, my underwater photos are not terribly great!

We returned to Water Caye for lunch and then snorkelled again from our kayaks near the barrier reef.

I saw an octopus! At first I didn't know what I was seeing, it looked like a very odd-shaped fish moving across the bottom in a jumbled sort of way. Just as it got itself under a coral overhang I realized what I was seeing. Oddly, it was accompanied by a fish who also swam under the overhang with it. I called out to the others about my find and everyone swam over; Omar dove and poked under the overhang to get the octopus to come out again. The fish came out but not the octopus. But at least Omar was able to confirm my sighting, he saw it too. I was so pleased at seeing an octopus!

We went for a third snorkel after dark. Fortunately dark comes early here, so we were in the water with underwater lamps by 7pm. We just went in off the beach, not very far out from shore.

We saw some very large hermit crabs in conch shells, anemones, more sea cucumbers and several moray eels. The sea cucumbers looked like snakes, they were long and slender, slithering around on the bottom. When Omar poked them they shrivelled up into the cucumber shape we are used to.

We saw a trunk fish and a squid. The squid was swimming near the surface, Sam followed it for awhile and was so close he could reach out and touch it. Which he did.

Then we all saw an octopus.

It was a Caribbean Reef Octopus, probably about 6 or 8 feet in diameter. Its head was about softball-sized, maybe a bit larger. It had diaphanous webbing between its legs, so it appeared to have a body about 3 or 4 feet in diameter. It flowed gracefully across the sea bottom. When it came to a rock or coral outcropping it flowed over it, enveloping it. It was basically a cream colour but it changed colour as it moved, from cream to turquoise and back to cream again.

It was so beautiful, so amazing! Graceful and elegant, like a ballet dancer. Its large eyes watched us as we circled it, shining our lamps at it. I stayed with it for a long time, I just couldn't tear myself away from the awesome sight of it. That one viewing alone was worth the cost and effort of this entire trip!

Needless to say I have no photographs of this, only memories. The underwater camera was a pain to use and definitely not up to the challenges of after-dark snorkelling. Emerging from the water into the cold 27C air (never thought I'd say that!) was bracing! We grabbed our towels and ran back to the IZE for dinner. Nevertheless I think most of the sandflea bites I got on this trip were from that short run from the beach to the dining room.

For dinner we had a wonderful chicken curry with baked potato and a zuchini cake. Our server was a wonderful woman with a stern librarian kind of face; when Omar flirted with her, calling her "baby girl" she gave him The Look over the rims of her glasses. Later I asked Sam what was on the back of his T-shirt and he got up and did a little dance with his back to me, just as our server was approaching to serve the cake. She gave Sam The Look and we all laughed. When I finished my cake she brought another piece and set it in front of me, then quickly snatched it away and gave it to someone else! As she returned to the kitchen she looked over her shoulder at me with The Look and then an evil grin: Gotcha!

At one point in the afternoon hanging out on our deck, we saw something small and bright blue drifting in the water in the little lagoon below the deck. We watched it drift slowly toward us and finally I went out and around our house and under the deck to retrieve it. Amid much joking about what it was I insisted that it was a real creature, possibly a jellyfish, but certain unbelievers stuck to the theory that it was some man-made plastic object. I was able once again to get confirmation from authority, in this case Jenn the co-owner of the IZE, that it was indeed a Bluebutton Jellyfish. So there!

We also noticed that the one grackle that hung out around our house was one-legged, or appeared to be. As it turns out he actually has two legs, but one is damaged and unusable as a leg so he keeps it tucked up under his belly, only occasionally extending it for balance.

A very full Day 4! Tomorrow we leave Water Caye, we will be sad to leave, it is such a beautiful place and we love our little house.

Back to trip summary
Back to Day 3
On to Day 5...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Belize trip: day 3

[click on pictures to see larger images]

On the morning of Day 3 we had pancakes and bacon for breakfast at the Paradise Resort on Tobacco Caye before setting out to Water Caye.

The idea was to sail from Tobacco Caye to Water Caye, with little sails that fit onto the kayaks.

However the wind was low and we mostly paddled. I got a sunburn.

We arrived on a gorgeous sandy beach at the south end of Water Caye in time for lunch.

Omar setup a table in the water on the beach, and we had tuna salad and some kind of foccaccio bread for lunch.

Daisy and Matt remained on the beach lounging in the water, while the rest of us explored and ended up at the bar of the International Zoological Expeditions lodge (IZE).

Very pretty, very cool.

We went snorkelling off the beach and once again I had mask problems, Sam switched masks with me.

Later we got ourselves installed at the IZE.

Wow.

The accommodations were awesome.

We had one building with three bedrooms, each with its own en suite bathroom, a common lounge and a common deck overlooking the water.

Very airy and beautiful, and it was nice to have the building to ourselves and the shared deck and lounge, with a wonderful breeze coming in from the ocean.

Unfortunately Sam once again got sequestered in a dorm next door. Way better than the horrible room at Paradise Lodge, but still not great.



We loved our deck, we sat out there and read or talked, enjoying the wonderful wind coming in off the ocean, and the view through the mangroves on either side of our little lodge.

Omar led us on a tour of the Caye. A large part of it used to belong to some nuns, they sold it to the Bowmans, an American family involved in fruit plantations in Belize (first bananas and later citrus). They use it for private vacation property.

There is another lodge with luxury accommodations (glass windows and air conditioning) that is empty except for the caretaker staff.

The IZE is used by Island Expeditions and groups of sport fisherman who stay the night and fish all day from their yachts. It has a classroom with lots of books on coral reef life and culture, and a lovely airy dining room and great food.

Again I was starving though, I was not doing well with the scheduled meals. My previous trip to Lighthouse Reef in 2006 got me used to unlimited access to food and I just wasn't prepared for scheduled mealtimes.

The IZE bar was casual and on the honour system, you made your own drinks and marked down what you consumed to settle up later.

Sam and I saw Atlantic flying fish while kayaking to our snorkelling spot. They are small but it was very cool to see them. Sam was a great kayaking partner, we paddled well together I thought.

After dinner we congregated in our lounge and had a great conversation. What a wonderful group, that was at least half of what was great about the whole experience.

Back to trip summary
Back to Day 2
On to Day 4...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Belize trip: day 2

Day 2 was the first big day of snorkelling. I checked my notebook, I have a list a page and a half long of all the fish we identified. Don't know how long I will remember them all though. Right now I think I can put a face to a name, so to speak, for all of the fish on my list, but my memory is not to be counted on for very long.

I had a terrible time with my snorkel mask. I got very frustrated with that, it leaked terribly. Omar had a replacement for me, but it fogged up. In the end he gave me his own mask.

In the morning we went in the water off the wharf at the Reef's End bar, in the afternoon we kayaked out a ways and snorkelled from our kayaks. Josh was ill, turns out he is susceptible to motion sickness and the rocking of the ocean waves did him in. Fortunately Matt and Daisy had some really good motion-sickness medication that they got at a dive shop, they gave Josh some and that seemed to help.

Here's my list:

spotted eagle ray
yellow skate ----->
southern stingray
squirrelfish
french grunt
yellowtail snapper
red hind
stoplight parrotfish
needlefish
4-eye butterflyfish
sergeant major
tarpon
blue tang
banded butterflyfish
grey angelfish
blueheaded wrasse
spanish hogfish
cocoa damselfish
trumpetfish

Late afternoon I went snorkelling in the shallow water in front of our cabins to try to sort out my mask problems. I was not successful, but I did manage to cross the path of the spotted eagle ray that patrolled that stretch of water. We were only a few feet away from each other in the shallow water! He continued on his was without even noticing, I was in total awe of seeing a ray up close and personal like that.

I think that is one of the amazing things about snorkelling, you almost feel like an eavesdropper or a fly-on-the-wall, the fish appear to ignore you and just continue on with their lives as if you weren't there. You feel like you're part of it, in a way that you don't get from a walk in the forest. Imagine walking in the woods with all the deer and foxes and raccoons and wolves and birds and frogs just carrying on as if you weren't there, calmly walking along, hunting, eating, whatever they do in a normal day at home. Being able to see all the different fish and other living things on the coral reef living their lives in full view only a few feet away from you is really amazing. Of course the beautiful colours of the fish and the corals and the wonderful experience of floating in warm turquoise water aren't too shabby either.

I took a lot of underwater pictures over the course of the trip and very few of them turned out at all. Many of them show nondescript grey little fishies, so if I do this again (and I sure hope I do!) I will not bother with photos. Google the fish names and look at internet pictures that do these gorgeous little guys justice!

The reefs of Belize are in remarkably good condition I'm told. Carol scuba dives and she's been all over and she was certainly impressed with what she saw here. There are three kinds of coral communities: barrier reefs, atoll reefs and fringe reefs. We explored barrier and fringe reefs, on this trip I don't think we saw any atoll reefs. Glover's Reef and Lighthouse Reef are examples of that. So besides fish we saw several kinds of coral, but I didn't keep a list so I can't really tell you all the names. I remember brain coral, fan coral and fire coral, that's about it.

We were not ecstatic about the accommodations on Tobacco Caye. I was starving all the time, although Omar did ask for second servings for us. But waiting for it to be dinner was hell, snorkelling made me so hungry!

I dunno, on the one hand it was idyllic but on the other it's easy to pick at the failings of heaven.

Sam told me that the general opinion of past Paradise Island trippers was that the accommodations improved as the trip progressed. Better that we start with the less than ideal and improve from there, than vice versa!

Back to trip summary
Back to Day 1
On to Day 3...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Belize trip: day 1

The trip begins officially today, "Day 1".

I was up at the crack of dawn, 5am. So apparently were many others. The grackles begin their raucous calls at dawn, the sun rises very quickly. For the rest of the trip we all found it very easy to be up at dawn. By Toronto time that was 7am, so it really wasn't an adjustment for me, but even the westerners found it easy to be up at 5am.

We were given waterproof dry sacks to pack our things into for the kayak trip, we each got three 20-litre dry sacks.

We had some great coffee and a filling breakfast (eggs and beans and fruit!), and then got on the bus to head for Dangriga, via the capital "city" Belmopan and the Hummingbird Highway. Wonderful scenery! I tried to take pictures but few turned out well, nothing did it justice. I love the houses on stilts, the many buildings with thatched roofs, the mountains in the distance, the jungle palm trees.

In Dangriga we headed straight for the waterfront to catch our boat to the islands (cayes). Sam was there waiting for us. We all got on the same boat, but we Paradise Islanders would get off at the first stop, almost half an hour out from Dangriga. But we ran aground before we even got out of Dangriga, several passengers hopped out into the water to push us off. Josh, one of the Paradise Islanders, had his passport in a fanny pack and it got soaked.

First stop Cocoa Plum Caye. Here we geared up for the first leg of our kayak trip. Our group consisted of Omar our guide, Daisy and Matt from Atlanta, Josh from Colorado, Carol from Chicago, Sam from Vancouver and me from Toronto. Sam was probably the youngest and I was the oldest. We used the "facilities" and Omar made lunch for us.

Before we left the beach though we had to practice our emergency kayak exits and re-entries. I have done this before but for some reason this time I had a hard time with it, I panicked. Hanging upside down from the kayak underwater, I totally forgot the routine and just flailed wildly. I couldn't get loose! I couldn't find the tab to pull the skirt away from the kayak! I wondered how long it would take for Omar to notice that I wasn't surfacing... and then all of a sudden I was up in the air. Don't know how that happened, I must have pulled the skirt loose in my wild panic. Good thing!

The re-entry was not too hard for me but was very hard for Sam, as it turned out I had left off the waterproof cover on the front compartment of our kayak, which put Sam's end of the kayak way up in the air so he couldn't get himself back in. So other than having survived to tell the tale, I did not perform particularly well on that little exercise.

We bailed and packed and set out in the kayaks, first for a bird sanctuary that was a nesting site for frigate birds and yellow-footed boobies. Omar threw sticks in the air that the male frigate birds swooped in to catch for impressing females with their nest-building abilities.

Then we kayaked several hours to Tobacco Caye, with a short break next to a mangrove swamp.

Tobacco Caye was cute, a very tiny island owned by six Belizeans, each one operating a lodge on their property. A very lively place, popular with a certain type of tourist, the more free-wheeling low-budget kind. At one end the Reef's End Lodge with a bar on stilts over the water, Gavioti's and Lana's and a couple of others in the middle, and Paradise Lodge at the other end, where we were staying.

We had little cabins right on the shore with little decks overhanging the shallow water. A hammock and deck chair on the deck completed the idyllic picture. Sam unfortunately did not get one of the cabins, he stayed in a really awful and stuffy little room in a house. I told him to hangout on our deck as much as he wanted, which he did. Matt, Daisy and Josh shared another cabin with two rooms next to Carol's and mine.

Around sunset we saw a spotted eagle ray swim by our cabins. We saw it several times over the next day or two, it appeared to have a regular route back and forth in front of our cabins.

The entire island is sand with coconut palms. It is at one end of a section of a barrier reef. There is a second bar in the middle of the island by the water, we ended up going there after dinner at the Paradise Lodge, I had a pina colada made with coconut milk right from the local coconuts.

On a walk after dark Sam and I saw a few hermit crabs scuttling around. When we got back to the bar there was a woman there doing fire-spinning on the beach.

Don't know when we went to bed but it was ridiculously early.

Back to trip summary
Back to Day 0
On to Day 2...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Belize trip: day 0

Island Expeditions calls the first day of your trip "day 0". The idea being that you need a day to arrive and adjust to being there, the real trip doesn't start until the next day. Although, they do pack in a few things on Day 0, in this case a trip to the Tropical Education Centre (TEC) and an after-dark visit to the Belize Zoo.

I arrived at the Belize International Airport at noon, it was over 30C and sunny. For me, blindingly hot. Waited at the airport for a few more participants to arrive and then we were shuttled to a nearby Biltmore hotel, where we waited poolside for the rest of the group to arrive. The hotel is set up in a horseshoe shape with a private courtyard containing a large enclosure of birds, a pool, and a poolside bar. And lots of trees and flowers, very pleasant.

By about mid-afternoon everyone had arrived and we got in our tour bus to go to the TEC where we are to spend our first night in very nice wood, canvas and screen cabanas.

Our guide at this point was Juan Carlos, who gave us a little lecture on the culture and ethnic make-up of Belize before a delicious Belizean dinner. Rice and beans cooked in coconut milk and chicken of one sort or another figure big in Belizean dinners.

The TEC had several other guests, some of whom were engaged in research and documentation on Belizean wildlife.

Night happens fast. A few minutes past 6pm the sun sets and within a half hour it is dark. So at 7pm we set out for the Belize Zoo, just a short way down the road from the TEC.

The Belize Zoo is different from most zoos. It was founded by a woman who wanted to provide a home for jungle animals used in the movie industry. Over the years they have added orphaned and injured animals, all of whom are native to Belize, many of whom are now rare in the wild. So many of these animals have been hand-reared, many have become quite tame. The zookeepers give them names, call them by name and generally treat them like pets.

So for example, we were introduced to two jaguars, C.T. (named for Crooked Tree, the village near which he was found) and Junior. We were told not to stick our fingers through the enclosure fence when C.T. was around because he would take them, but Junior liked to be petted so we were invited to reach through the fence to touch him. You don't get to wander through the Belize Zoo on your own, the zookeepers guide you, explain what you are seeing, and provide food to entice shyer animals to approach the fence. Quite an amazing experience.

Our guide did an excellent imitation of a howler monkey to get the howlers going, they make such a huge roar that it is hard to believe that they are actually quite small monkeys. The jaguars were of course a big hit with us, as was the puma, but all of us stood well back from the wild pigs who were excited to see us but were incredibly rank smelling. Gross!

This is April the tapir...

I had to get up around 3am Toronto time to get my 6.30am flight, and Toronto is two hours ahead of Belize, so by the Belize clock I had been up and active since 1am. I just staggered through the zoo and was good and ready to collapse into bed when we got back to the TEC. Island Expeditions combines two trip groups on the first day, there were 5 of us doing the Paradise Islands trip and 11 on the Glover's Reef trip. I was sharing my cabana with Carol, a 30-something woman from Chicago on the Paradise Islands trip. We continued to share sleeping accommodations for the rest of the trip. All of the people on the Paradise Islands trip were American except me (and Sam, who did not join us until the next day) and there were two Canadians on the Glover's Reef trip, a mother and son.

When I first met Carol at the hotel, and she introduced herself as being from Chicago, I had a kind of gut reaction of "oh! a neighbour!" I don't know why but I have this feeling of Chicago being a kind of sister-city to Toronto. Carol told me later she felt the same thing. The other interesting thing was that whenever I introduced myself to any of the Americans, they all immediately lit up at the mention of Toronto, they thought it was an interesting or nice city to be from. What a difference from how Canadians react! If you're from Toronto, you don't want to share that with other Canadians, it's somehow a shameful thing to admit. So it was kind of nice to get that reaction from Americans not in the know about what a terrible place Toronto is to be from.

One thing I forgot to mention about Day 0, I arrived in Belize with a cold. It was so annoying! I thought I was finally over the endless series of colds, only to have it return on holiday! But, I had brought along a serious supply of vitamin C and I started eating that right away at the hotel, washing it down with litres and litres of water. After several gallons of water and grams of vitamin C I think I licked it. Mind you, it meant multiple trips to the toilet during the night, but small price to pay. I kept it up on Day 1 as well, but I am pretty sure I was out of the woods by the time I woke up that day. Whew! And amazing how effective water is!

Back to trip summary
On to Day 1...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Later

I'm off to Belize early tomorrow, won't be back till May 5. Too preoccupied to think of anything else, so that's all I'm writing.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Birdsong

I can't get over how much birdsong there is here. I don't recall a lot of songbirds in New Westminster, it was mostly crows and jays, and a few chirpy sparrows. Besides the sparrows and robins, there are so many songs that I don't recognize here. The other night and again this morning I heard a red winged blackbird, staking out his territory in a neighbouring tree. He of course does not belong here, but it was so nice that he thought he did!

These days with the warm weather and the bright sun and all the singing birds, I can close my eyes and imagine myself in a jungle somewhere. Really.

I was visiting my brother over the weekend in Barrie and he has a place in a nice neighbourhood with lots of trees not far from the lakeshore, but also not far from the highway. You hear the sound of the highway night and day. It is way quieter here in the big city! Except for the birdsong.

I am leaving for Belize in a few days. Yesterday I was thinking that when I get back, the world will be green. But today, looking out the window at the treetops starting to leaf out, I wonder if it will turn green before I leave. Spring is so fast here! I hardly remember the snow of a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On good days I believe in magic

Today is Earth Day and I've been debating with myself whether I want to say anything related to that or not. I have been finding my way with this blog, mostly chatting and commenting on the mundanities of everyday life. I sometimes feel like I ought to be saying Significant Things, and then I think No, leave that to others. Sometimes significance is vastly overrated. The details of life are what it is all about. If you manage to get through an entire lifetime without ever having noticed the details, well, that's really too bad. Not that someone shouldn't comment on the Significant Things, I'm just not sure I want to do that here.

However, having said that, I'm going to anyway.

So. Earth Day.

I vacillate between optimism and pessimism about our fate here. On good days I believe in magic, on bad days I don't. I do think the world is going to hell in a handbasket, I do think my grandchildren are not growing up to a very nice world. I would like to make a difference there, but I often despair at the futility of it. It is very easy to get overwhelmed by the bad news, the ugly realities of human nature.

I read a book a couple of years ago that was based on an interesting metaphor which I would like to repeat here. Unfortunately I do not remember the book title or the author's name, so I cannot give proper acknowledgment, but I really like the metaphor. The author described a business back in the '70s, in which someone created sealed glass balls containing a bit of air, a bit of water, a plant and some small water creatures, probably those "sea monkeys" they used to advertise on the back pages of comic books. They were called Ecospheres. The idea was that they were self-contained ecosystems, that you could put on your desk or wherever and just watch.

You would order one and the company would mail it out to you. Sometimes they arrived damaged. Sometimes they lasted a few days and then something happened to put the whole system out of whack and they died. But sometimes they lasted quite a while, the delicate balance of the little world was stable and the contained creatures survived. The author imagined that in a way our universe is like that. Scattered around there are all these experimental ecospheres, some are damaged, some last a short time and die, some last a long time.

We live in one of those ecospheres. So far the experiment has been wonderfully successful. Some amazing changes have happened in the history of our little planet, and it has survived more than one disaster. Now we are on the brink of another disaster. In fact, we are the disaster. Will the Earth survive? Will we survive? Will we learn ways to manage our activity on this little planet in a way that works for all its inhabitants? I don't know. On my good days I believe in magic. On my bad days I don't.

I think though that we have had a number of very wise human beings point the way to solving this problem. We do get good advice, if only we could follow it. I have come to believe, and I know this sounds corny, but maybe the best advice really is corny, that what it will take is love. When we learn to really love each other and love this planet then we will do whatever it takes to keep the experiment going. Nothing more, nothing less.

As I say, on good days I believe in magic, on bad days I don't.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bunny gone

Bunny left this morning.















I miss her, the place seems empty without her.










A bug has moved in.
















It is just not the same.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Weekend in Barrie, Bunny takes a trip

This weekend felt like the first weekend of summer. Hot. I kept looking at the trees, wondering why they had no leaves.

Had a good visit with my brother and his family in Barrie, he's lost some weight since the last time I saw him and is looking very fit. He invited me to go for a walk with him on Saturday morning, at 6.30am. He woke me up at 6.00am and we walked down to the lakeshore and along the boardwalk there for a ways, then turned around and came back, picking up some coffee for breakfast. That pretty much left me exhausted for the rest of the day! I'm going to have to work at it if I expect to be as fit as my brother, it's been a long time since I could say that.

Later in the day we walked over to a mall and did a bit of shopping. I bought an outfit I can use as a bathing suit in Belize, but also can wear kayaking or jogging or just working in the garden. It's completely synthetic, made from material that dries quickly and protects against UV. I got three pieces, a sports bra, a pair of shorts and a shirt. They are snug-fitting, so they won't balloon up in the water. It's not that I need a new bathing suit, but I did want to have something that I could wear while snorkelling that would protect against the sun. And being a certain age, I'm happy not to expose all my skin while swimming; this outfit provides coverage and looks good. It was expensive though, way more than I would ever pay for a bathing suit. But since it can be used for other things as well, I felt justified in paying for it. I had hoped to do all my Belize shopping errands so I wouldn't have to go shopping in Toronto, but I didn't really succeed. I still have a few more things to pick up so I will have to go shopping tomorrow or Thursday.

I checked my email when I got home today, there was one from a friend in Seattle. I had said I would be out west this summer and wondered if I could stop by to visit, he replied that was fine and he'd make space in his fridge for me. I kind of did a double take on that: in his fridge? What exactly did he have in mind? Then I realized that the last few times I have visited him I have had a cooler full of food in my truck that I would ask to put in his fridge while I was there. He knows me better than I do!

Another bit of news, tonight is Bunny's last night with me. When I arrived home, Gretel's Dad Karl (aka the Seafood Express) was here for a brief visit. And Bunny had kind of trashed my place. Apparently she thinks that when I am not home there is no need to use the litter box, rugs are just fine. So I asked Karl if he was up for taking Bunny back to PEI with him. He said it wouldn't be a problem.

I just think that travelling with her might not be realistic, I would have to constantly be watching her to keep her from escaping, I'm not sure she would enjoy it and I don't think I would either. Better she just have a new home. I would like to keep her but that's only going to work if I stay put, and I'm not staying put this summer. I will miss her but I think it is for the best. Tristan has already said his goodbyes to her.

So I hear that it is cool in Vancouver (and Seattle!) and that there even is the chance of snow there. I checked [daily dose] today and he had a photo of a pile of snow behind a building in downtown Toronto, so technically we still have snow too. But it's hot and today we have our first smog alert for the year. Crazy weather.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I wanna go to sock camp

I'm about to take off for Barrie to visit my brother for a couple of days. It is totally gorgeous out. Yesterday it was so warm it felt like summer. No daffodils, no tulips no leaves on the trees, but it felt like summer! I Read some blogs this morning and apparently it's like this everywhere in the east. And I phoned a friend in Nova Scotia last night and they are having this weather too. The gods smile on the east.

Speaking of reading blogs, I was reading the Yarn Harlot, her second posting about sock camp on the "wet" coast, Orcas Island WA. She's on a book tour right now, but she's spending a week at this sock camp. I am so jealous! I yearn for a sock camp!

Last night at the Parkdale Library knitting group Rhonda and Rod were back, and we had a lively time talking about their move to Cape Breton next week, Jennifer's promotion to the Shaw and College Library at the end of the month, and a bit of the history of the group. Because they are thinking of disbanding it this summer. The group has been going for about three and a half years, it started when Lori walked into the library and offered her services as a knitting tutor. The library took her up on it. After all, this is what libraries are about, the loaning of information sources. Why shouldn't it be an 80-something knitting mentor?

All for now, I am just about packed, want to dig out my bike and load it onto the truck and then I'm off. Lake Simcoe here I come...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Flying and driving

I've spent the week so far working through my list of To Do's. Got a lot done, and a lot is slipping to next week. This trip to Belize is good for one thing, I discovered that my passport is about to expire. Will be good for the trip but not much longer than that. Time to renew! Looked it up on the web and discovered that since the last time I renewed the price has skyrocketed, almost a hundred dollars now. Jeesh!

The shoes I've been wearing all winter are thoroughly impregnated with salt now. I should have taken better care of them. I've been trying to rinse the salt out to no avail, finally looked it up and found that I should have been rinsing them in half'n'half vinegar and water every time they were exposed to salt. I can try it now but I think the damage is already done.

I was planning to go shopping tomorrow for some of the things I need for the trip, but now I'm thinking I'll postpone that until next week.

There are two things I am not looking forward to about this trip. The first is that Sam booked me for a flight out of Toronto at 6:30am, and since I have to do both security and US Customs before the flight, that means being at the airport no later than 4:30am. I am definitely not that kind of morning person!

The second thing is US Customs in Houston, on the return trip. I have less than an hour and a half for that, and the last time I had to do that it took more than an hour and a half. Had to run halfway across the airport, with all of my baggage, to make my next flight. Not fun.

I really dislike flying these days. It seems they go out of their way to make it an unpleasant experience. And that's why I love my truck, I'd far rather drive five thousand kilometers than fly them, I really would. And do. I've driven across the continent at least eight times now, and each time getting there has been as interesting as being there.

Last summer I had to do it in a very unreliable truck (wouldn't start) and ended up being helped by very kind people in several locations along the way. I now correspond with a family in Minnesota, who put me up for a weekend while they worked on getting my truck back on the road. The kindness of strangers. Our politics and religious beliefs couldn't have been more opposite, but we had a very good time. And I learned a lot from them.

Sure wish I could drive to Belize.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tired of waiting

I went out and bought a flat of pansies at Fiesta Gardens and today I planted then in our front yard (dirt patch).





Other than the odd crocus there is nothing in bloom on our street, except for these guys. I am tired of waiting.







In my old home of New Westminster, spring comes on gradually, beginning in February. Wave after wave of flowers, starting with the crocuses and daffodils, through the primulas and tulips and into the rhododendrons. We had winter pansies to get us through the winter season.

Here, spring is late but fast. After a long winter it really feels good to see the daily changes, the rising temperatures, the robins returning, and the crocuses and snowdrops piercing through the remaining snowbanks. It's kind of exciting.

I can't say I prefer one over the other, but I do miss February flowers.

We don't get much sun on our side of the street, so the pansies will have to make do with this.